Thursday, December 06, 2007

The infamous cover!

Yes, this is Time Magazine, but if you're American you've probably never seen this cover, for it was made only for the European Market. The title speaks for itself - so does the photo! - and, well, how can I say, it did not really trigger a lot of positive reactions to say the least. The article is cruel, but a bit true I'm afraid (what would you answer when the author, Don Morrison, asks "Quick: name a French pop star who isn't Johnny Hallyday"). Of course, French intellectuals do not really agree... I'd like to hear your opinion; but first read the article, it's here.


  1. I think that one of the reasons French culture isn't well known or successful in the U.S. is just as the French population rejects successful artists as "too commercial," Americans reject French art, music, literature and film for being "too French." What does that mean? Well, many Americans have this anti-France sentiment- that French people are self-absorbed snobs that they they're too sophisticated for us lowly Americans. Maybe it's true, but the perceived French attitude leaves a bitter taste in many American's mouth.

  2. In the 17th century France led the cultral word. Now it is America. I'm not sure the French are ever going to get over it. However, popular dosen't necessarily mean better.

  3. This paper is painful for me who study art history,and is eager to learn things about culture in general...I can stop my studies right now since the French culture is dead! ;-)
    Unfortunatelly this is (almost) reality.

  4. No French people would ever think of citing a pop star as an example of "culture" ! That in itself is a good example of the difference in appreciation between the two countries.

    But this little game of stupid comparisons can be played both ways.
    For instance : Quick : name an American who is an international soccer player ?

    Does it mean anything about US sporting ability vs. Europe ?

  5. What an irritating article. It starts and finishes by telling us how vibrant French culture is - artistic production right and left, even though that's sneeringly explained by government subsidies. Then we find out the real problem (the reason French culture is "dead") is that AMERICANS aren't reading French novels. In the last few weeks we've been reading articles in the American press lamenting the fact that the majority of Americans don't read AT ALL, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that they aren't reading books from other countries. As long as people in France are reading and discussing what they read, and - here's the most important part - ENJOYING themselves - I don't think we need to mourn the death of French culture.

  6. Good lord. Can you name anything but crap that makes up American culture right now? Pop music is a bunch of low class idiots thumping out doggerel about popping caps. Lo, that's what our president is all about as well! We have some good jazz, and some good novelists. Once in a while our cinema creates something of note. Mostly, a bunch of crud. I can name few American pop stars because I tuned out to such drivel several years ago out of frustration. Death of whose culture?

    Beu deu geu deu. Pfft.

  7. Ruth - Bravo for your comments! Having spent the last 25 years trying to get American kids to read anything at all, I am jealous of an education system that encourages and gets philosophical discussions from 16 year olds. We seem to be drowning in kids who play video games or go to high cultural events such as "Knocked Up," a fine, uplifting American cinema experience, while I suffer through Janet Jackson's antics and another story about Brittany Spears. Culture is in the eye of the beholder. I doubt if many in Arab countries would agree that the things that either France or America produce are worthwhile or admirable.

    Eric - I got your Paris Daily Photo calendar today. It is gorgeous! I especially like the street scene with the long tables. That's one of my favorites! Thanks for doing this. I would say that the cultural high art of photography is alive and well in Paris.

  8. Only time can be true judge tell us the next global center of culture going to be. Only thing we know now from history - it is moving west.

  9. French culture is dying because our elites consider the american system as the only realistic system, so we have to mime them ... and so we are (slowly) becoming american, losing our specificity and then our culture.

  10. Interesting reactions.

    Of course the only question is: "what do we call culture" - a topic that is widely discussed in French Lycées - high-schools" in philosophy classes! I have no answer for that, but, for the ease of the conversation I would define culture as 'software' (art, music, movies, literature...) as opposed to 'hardware' (cars, furniture or vegetables).

    And when it comes to "selling culture", Americans are often better at it because they are good at producing global cultural goods (most American films and series are exportable, a lot of music too...).

    Same with fashion or cuisine (yes it is culture too!) - The French manage to export it well because it's globally accepted that wearing a Vuitton bag is chic, that when you want to eat fine cuisine you go to a French restaurant...

    When this culture is strongly local, whether it's very American (Baseball, Football, Country music...) or very French (French films, music, and books apparently!) then it just does not work. We don't listen to Country music in France because we never had cow boys in our history!! And Americans do not like French films because they are slow (the films, not Americans!), in a language they don't understand and have no endings!

    One last thing: Americans are also good at marketing things, whereas the French dislike anything that has to do with "selling". That is how they manage to "impose" some of their cultural goods everywhere.

    When the French try to fight with the same weapons (ie Luc Besson who produces 'global films') they are immediately criticized by the French (And I won't even mention - on a much much much lower scale, a certain Paris Daily Photo blog which receives regular complaints by French readers who think it's a scandal to write captions in English ;)

  11. Also:

    Best comment award for today goes to Vicky for:

    "Eric - I got your Paris Daily Photo calendar today. It is gorgeous! I especially like the street scene with the long tables. That's one of my favorites! Thanks for doing this. I would say that the cultural high art of photography is alive and well in Paris."

    LOL, I DO agree!!

  12. 1) I love your blog and especially the pictures.
    I have been living in Paris for 24 years now, and I don't think I ever got the chance to see such beautiful, funny or breathtaking ones!! (ok, maybe a few!!)

    2) I don't think that French culture is dead. I just think that, since the 17th century, it changed a lot, of course.
    But so did the American culture since the Pilgrims!!

    Anyway, I think it is extremely difficult to judge its own culture.
    So I won't!

    I'll just say I like my own culture and I like American culture for other reasons.
    But isn't it the principle of culture? Taking the best things in each culture and share them?

  13. Mr Morrison gives us a very good illustration of 2 french expressions that might be difficult to understand for those who don't have French as their mother language :
    - pleurer des larmes de crocodile (i.e. expressing hypocrit regrets)
    - marronnier (the kind of article that comes back every year when magazines have nothing to deal with…)

    Et à part ça, quoi de neuf ?

  14. Ehem... Talking about culture... You have to see this

  15. Well, if Britney Spears is a shining example of American pop culture, I will take the French any day. The animosity for the French that has been created by the Bush administration is an embarrassment.

  16. France is about the only place left in the modern World which still has its culture. And anyone who's ever been knows it.

  17. I was in France recently and this issue was never far from my mind. I don’t have a lot of time (being at work), but my impression is that culture is much more a part of daily life in France than it is in the U.S. Most people in the U.S. don’t read very much and watch crap for T.V. Then they are sold on blockbuster exhibits in major museums, for which they’ll line up once or twice a year. In the U.S. there is an unspoken truth that anything outside of the pursuit of private gain is a waste of time. Therefore, if a book doesn’t sell well, it’s not a success. The article makes the same point when it compares the price of a British work of art to that of a French work of art to make a point about French culture. Where culture is lived rather than consumed, the author/s assume it doesn’t exist.

  18. First, a correction. Country music is not from the area, or era, of cowboys. It is an outgrowth of old folk tunes and mostly developed in the eastern south of the US (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia). Secondly, if any culture is dying it would have to be that of the US (which didn't have that much to begin with). Quick name an American artist in the Louvre.

  19. ‘French cinema has also suffered from a nouveau roman complex’ cheers…’Impressionism, Surrealism’ … could you tell this person that this is the digital art century … this article is a real soupe … may be some journalists are already dead ..

    I looked at wiki for a definition of culture
    and made my definition… culture is the way we cultivate things to give them shared meanings.
    sorry to be long but I was rised with 3 cultures and I canot understand the competition, take everything you think is the best of each and enjoy.

    Now in uk, fourth culture to implement, I can only tell you who I miss my natal culture… the croissant ordinaire, les Guignols, le Monde, le franc parle, Olivia Ruiz, the smell of expensive parfum, the flirty French male, les bistrots, les gros mots crotte de bic, … these small pieces put together are our culture.

    Yes French people cannot bear to be criticised [see first paragraph], are not very in advance of their time, yes Sarkozy is arrogant thinking that France can have a word to say in International politic but this does not make the French culture less valuable.

    Have a look at Bill Maher on France in youtube

    Wikipedia, Youtube yes … universal culture but we are eager to share and learn.

  20. gg --

    Believe it or not, "crocodile tears" is an expression used in the U.S. as well (I can't vouch for other Anglophone nations). "Marronnier" is new to me, however -- in the U.S. we call it "the silly season."

    And I'd like to echo others' outrage at the idea that French culture is "dead" because it isn't dominating American culture.

    P.S. Eric, what a lovely blog -- and I admire your hard work in keeping it going every single day, even when you're traveling. Thank you!

  21. I loved reading the comments that this post has generated. Yes, culture is in the eye of the beholder. I adore French culture, which is the main reason I return year after year. I am not surprised that this article did not appear in the U.S., because based upon its length alone, most of my fellow countrymen would not have the attention span to read past page two.

    To change the subject, I had no idea there was a PDP CALENDAR!!! A million thanks to Vicky for giving the heads up. Merci, Eric - I just bought two. Please make some more things for us to buy :)

  22. I used to read TIME years ago but haven't for years. This looks interesting.

    Goodness we've a lot of Eric on the comments box today. Yay. Hellooooo dear Eric.

  23. Okay, my first thought on seeing the "Quick: name a French..." was Who is Johnny Hallyday? Then I thought, does Jerry Lewis count? kidding!

    I'm woefully ignorant of French pop culture. But I balance that with my woeful ignorance of American pop culture as well.

    LOVE the calendar. It's on my wish list for the holiday.

  24. Just some insight from an American high school English sophomores just read Voltaire's "Candide" and, though they struggled at times, they found it to be one of the best books they've read in a long while--unlike any American text they had ever read. The wit, the humor, the hyperboly, the satire, the political comment, etc engaged them. I'm proud to say that French culture will never die as long as we continue to appreciate ART and IDEAS in the present (take a chance) and certainly that of the past. I've often seen how French books or films often jumpstart American artists in the creative process as well. I can't imagine our educational pundits in Washington to ever utter what the French Education Minister said, "We need literary people, pupils who can master speech and reason." Wow, what a concept? I think it could happen, but it often scares many to have to engage in reasoning. Well, I think I'll go cultivate my own garden.:-)

  25. As we say in the US.."what a crock of merde"!!

    Perhaps the real problem lies with the consumer of French Culture, and if the writer of this article thinks that the quality of French culture should be judged by the consumption of it by the average American Consumer then it only shows his own supidity! The average American thinks that books should be a decorating accessory and if they can't even find the state they live in on a map how do you think they can find a country where a French book would be written? Look at the NY Times Bestseller list, if a book isn't about how to stay young, how to get thin or how to get rich it doesn't sell! The last "French" book to be a best seller in the US was "French Women Don't Get Fat"..and I don't think it was really even written in French originally.

    The best movie to be shown in the US this year was about a woman from Menilmontant that became one of the world's greatest singing legends..La Mome Piaf!!

    "Marronier" or "Silly Season"...I agree with gg and the others, this is the type of article that somebody writes just to keep their job..pure filler!

    As my mother once said.."Consider the source" and TIME and CNN and all the other American "newsmagazines" have become nothing more than tabloids. They are all owned by vast media and entertainment conglomerates...TIME/Warner??? Of course they are going to tell you that a Disney or Pixar production[like Ratatouille]is more important or relevant than a book that won the Prix Goncourt, after all it is the "Christmas Buying Season"...and a DVD of "Ratatouille" is a much more profitable gift than a book!

    I have heard an expression that there is more culture in a container of yogurt than all of the US and in some cases I have to agree. Especially if "Dancing with the Stars", "Oprah" and "50 Cent" is the so called "Culture" I am supposed to be consuming! Beurrrkkk!!!

  26. Eric....Is France a country?? Hungary??? Well, I've heard of Turkey..but Hungary?? I'm rolling on the floor...too much!!! Parfait!!


  27. msmellieus said...
    gg --

    Believe it or not, "crocodile tears" is an expression used in the U.S. as well

    Well I must recognize this is excellent. You made a good point mocking my ignorance. I guess there are indeed a little more crocodiles (or alligators ?) in the US than in France !
    Thank you !

  28. I can only say that I love french culture and I do not think it is dead. I take by example all the countless french films I see every year at the theaters.
    The theathers are always crowded.

    And without any doubt, La Mome WAS the best film I saw this year. Hey, it's french, it's culture. It's the french culture alive and kicking!!!

  29. Name a French pop star who isn't Johnny Hallyday? Hmm. Julien LeClerc comes to mind.

    American "culture" is dreadful just now.

  30. You know, not to be mean, but here in NYC, I am pretty sure nobody knows who Johnny Hallyday is. They know Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and for the rest they may have to think a bit hard. I must say that since I live here, I have become very protective of my European neighboors. As people tend to put us in the same bag because we share the same language, anything like this hits a nerve.
    Last year I went to a concert for Arielle Dombasle new CD - I was positively surprised, she played with every single French cliché in the book, smart. The place was packed with people like Charlie Rose, Salman Rushdie, ... For some people, anything that is vaguely French is so very chic. Which is great but sad as well: I think it may scare people into learning the language. :(

  31. Sorry, I do agree with the conclusions of this article. TV5, the TV channel ambassador of France in other countries is unbearable to watch these days. They did their best to make it more accessible to young people, so it is not far from M6. Can't name any original, interesting contemporary film director and my biggest regret is Bernard Pivot's fantastic programs. Oddly enough, the decline started when"Bouillon de culture" ended.

  32. Marronnier? In the UK we have the expression "an old chestnut" for something issue that people keep on dragging up, with little new to say about it.

    It's true that France isn't quite the cauldron of new art and thought that it appeared to be in the early 20th century. That's partly to do with France, and a lot to do with the greater diffusion of all sorts of cultural production and communication around the world - and a much broader sense of what constitutes the canon of culture.

    You might like to see what Bernard-Henri Lévy says about it to British readers:,,2224228,00.html

  33. "And Americans do not like French films because they are slow (the films, not Americans!), in a language they don't understand and have no endings!"
    My sentimentes exactly regarding french films. The huge difference I see between French and American film directors is that French ones do not take the public into account while making their movies, while American directors most definetly do. And THAT is the reason French films do nothing outside of France.

  34. A piece of article about art is talked and debated for days in France. Do you think it will have been the same in the states? For me THAT is real culture

  35. "Quick name an American artist in the Louvre."

    Copley, Sargent and Catlin, among others.

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  37. So, French culture is on the decline?

    This will come as news to anyone living in France.

    We should bear in mind however, that this is an article primarily for domestic consumption in the US. The same USA where some 32 million US citizens are considered to be functionally illiterate and where a higher % of the country's GDP is spent on the military than on either education or health....

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